Jan 302014

Sheep Dip 1999 Amoroso Oloroso044

41.8% abv

Score:  79/100


Following on the heels of the delightful Sheep Dip 1990 Old Hebridean I so loved, I’m somewhat at a loss as to how to explain this one away.

That aforementioned 1990 was of such a surprisingly high caliber that I’ve spent the last couple of years singing its praises from the rooftops.  It didn’t hurt that the malt was built on a bedrock of old Ardbeg either.  Just sayin’.  All I can say now, however, is that I sincerely hope that anyone out there who may have heard my earlier recommendation did not confuse that bottle with this and make a purchase in error.  I’d honestly almost feel guilty. 

The story behind this Amaroso Oloroso 1999 is a unique one involving the rediscovery of a handful of casks of Scotch whisky (most probably a blended malt like the other expression of Sheep Dip, I’d guess) which had been laid down and forgotten in a Spanish Bodega.  The whisky itself was blended in Scotland and spent the first quarter of its life prior to being shipped off to Jerez and settling down in the darkened recesses of a warehouse, where it lay apparently undisturbed until 2012. 

The cynic in me questions just how exactly casks can be forgotten in this manner.  Knowing how rigid bonding and excise is, and knowing that warehouses are prowled quite regularly…hmmmm…I don’t buy it, guys.  This tale immediately made me think of the great Serendipity story (an ‘accidental’ blending of Ardbeg and Glen Moray, you may recall).

Anyway…as for the whisky itself…

The best analogy I can draw, in light of its overly sweet persona and rather artificial facade, is that this is like craving a big bowl full of fresh juicy black cherries and being handed a jar of fluorescent maraschinos instead.  This is, quite simply, an oversweet contrived malt lacking in any sort of focus.  I’m not saying it’s awful, I’m merely stating that it’s really not what I look for in a whisky, nor is it something I would ever recommend as a reflection of any of the styles we so love.

A quick final note:  This is not a Scotch whisky, nor is it labeled as such.  SWA regulations state that in order to be designated as ‘Scotch’ a whisky must be matured entirely in Scotland.  

Nose:  Sweet waxy synthetic notes.  Sweet fudge.  Maybe just the faintest touch of peat (though I’m honestly not sure on that one).  Marshmallow.  Farmy and iodine notes (but fruit and sweetened).  Bourbon notes.  Fake cherry candy.  Marzipan.  Caramel/toffee.  White nougat and white chocolate.  Vanilla cream and custard.  Deep spice notes, particularly cinnamon.

Palate:  Bourbon.  Spicy pastry.  Chocolate and more spice (maybe ginger and cinnamon…possibly a bit of pepper).  Horse blanket.  Huge vanilla fade.  Hugely sweet.  Overly so, in fact,

Thoughts:  Book a trip to the dentist.  You’ll need it after this one.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:03 pm
Jan 282014

Caol Ila 30 y.o. (Wilson & Morgan)063

57.5% abv

Score:  92/100


I’m not certain there is any distillery out there that has a greater representation among  independent bottlings than Caol Ila.  They’re simply EVERYWHERE, and to be honest…they’re more staggered in terms of profile and quality than the back catalog of Metallica.

Interestingly though, through all of these variants, there aren’t as many truly old Caol Ilas out there as you might imagine.  In fact, to date this is the oldest whisky I’ve tried from Islay’s most prolific distillery.  It was distilled in 1983, when I was about 5 years old, and bottled in 2013, when I was…decidedly older.  Ahem.  This 30 year old came from a single butt (#1096).

A mate of mine, before the cork was popped on this wizened old malt, said his initial impressions of it (from a prior sampling opportunity) were that it was quite in line with many of the older Port Ellen releases.  After having tried it now, I can sorta see the parallels, but wouldn’t necessarily make the comparison myself.  It’s more an extension of the more typical delicate Caol Ila profile, but with an added creaminess and a vastly understated (comparatively speaking) citric profile.

It’s a little pricey…and most likely tough to find…but well worth it if you can.  One of the best Caol Ilas I’ve tried.

Nose:  Sweet and creamy.  Hot cross buns.  Stretchy, chewy white taffee or nougat.  Vanilla and melted white chocolate.  Lemon.  Very faint smoke.  Some very soft syrupy fruits (pear, green grape, orange…maybe touches of peach).  Again…not so sure about those comparisons to Port Ellen.  This is much sweeter and creamier.

Palate:  Fruit cocktail.  Tangy tangerine and pineapple.  Smoke.  Black currant.  Unbaked spicy dough.  Great oily mouthfeel and big beautiful flavours.

Thoughts:  Wow…there is a great balance in this bottle.  A great cask at an ideal age.  Love the pronounced and unique fruit profile.  An old Coal Ila with a lot of life in it still.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:59 am
Jan 202014

The Dram Initiative #007 – Kavalan With Andrew Ferguson

Event Date:  December 5th, 2013


It’s not very often you get to be part of a tasting where a considerable percentage of the great unwashed members haven’t already grossly overindulged themselves and formed some biased opinion on the whisky they are about to try, but this evening was an exception.  Kavalan, a new whisky to the Calgary market, has just started hitting the store shelves; first at the Kensington Wine Market and now at Willow Park.       


The Kavalan distillery experiences the same quick maturation that Amrut does in India.  The temperatures in the slumbering Kavalan warehouses can be as high as 42 degrees Celsius.  The rate at which the greedy angels imbibe is between 12%-15% annually, as opposed to the Land of Scotch, where the rate is much lower, around 2% annually.  This means drink it or lose it.  This also applies if you sit next to one of our Dram members at a club event, nicknamed “Long Arm Stuart”, but for a different reason.

On the frightfully cold night of December 4, 2013, approximately eight years after this expansive, highly automated Kavalan distillery was built by the King Car Group in the hot humid climate of Taiwan, the Dram Initiative sat down at the Marda Loop Community Whisky Hall to partake in one of the largest organized tasting of Kavalan single malt in the known world (well, at least we believe).  The entrance fee, besides the event fee itself, included one item for the Calgary Food Bank, one of my personal, and the club’s favorite charities.


The single malts were tasted in this order:

1         Kavalan Single Malt Whisky 40% ABV.  This is Kavalan’s first whisky produced and their bestselling expression.  Matured in New oak, refill bourbon and Sherry casks.  Approximately 3 years old and has Caramel coloring 

2         King Car Whisky – Conductor 46% ABV.  Single malt whisky.  Blend of different Casks.  The first to carry the name of the King Car Group instead of ‘Kavalan’ as their single malt whiskies have all be known as to date.  Created as a well-rounded malt to represent the well-rounded Group, who operate in many industries.

3         Podium – Single Malt Whisky 46% ABV.  Single malt whisky.  Unlike other Kavalan expressions in that absolutely no bourbon or sherry casks were used here.  Only new American oak casks and a few refill casks.

4         Kavalan Bourbon 46% ABV.  Single malt whisky.  Vatting of ex-Bourbon casks and reduced in strength. Provide by KWM.

5         Kavalan Sherry 46% ABV.  Single malt whisky.  Vatting of ex-Sherry casks and reduced in strength. Provided by KWM.

6         Concertmaster – Port Cask Finish, single malt whisky 40% ABV.  First expression of the Concertmaster series.  Matured in American oak casks and then finished in Portuguese (Ruby, Tawny and vintage Port) Port Cask.


The members enjoyed the first six malts, with number 5, the blended Sherry, the favorite; followed by number 3, the Podium, matured in new American oak casks.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of information provided by the distillery for these first six malts. We know they are all single malts but are unsure of caramel coloring and/or chill-filtration.


The next four single malts are from the Solist range.  They are comprised of individual casks, bottled by hand at cask strength, without any coloring or chill-filtration.  The name is derived from the word Soloist, as in part of an Orchestra.  The word was changed to Solist as the Taiwanese had trouble pronouncing it.

1         Solist Bourbon 57.1% ABV Bottle 1 of 228 Cask# B080519070, Matured in American ex-Bourbon cask.

2         Solist Vinho     59.2% ABV Bottle 20 of 193 Cask# W080225006, Matured in used American oak wine barrel that has been recharred.

3         Solist Fino        57%ABV Bottle 479 of 505 Cask# S061127001, Matured Spanish Fino Sherry butt.

4         Solist Sherry    58.6% ABV Bottle 286 of 547 Cask# S060710022, Matured in Spanish Oloroso Sherry cask.

The Solist range is what I consider Kavalan’s premier whiskies, and it shows.  It should be noted that the quality of these whiskies can change with the cask.  This evening the Solist Bourbon won the show, but all four of these single cask whiskies were well received and thoroughly enjoyed.


What the famous Taiwanese-born, Academy award winning film director, Ang Lee, said about recognition within the movie industry, “In Hollywood you chart your life by Oscars”, I believe to be true in the whisky industry as well … you can chart your success by the awards and accolades you receive and Kavalan has been racking them up as of late.

Many thanks to Andrew Ferguson, our guest speaker for the evening, who gave an award winning presentation of these single malts equal to that of any performance given by the actors in the Academy award winning movie, Broke Back Mountain, directed by Mr. Lee and filmed just outside of Calgary here in Alberta.

Thank you to the Kensington Wine Market for kindly adding two new releases of Kavalan to round out the tasting to an even ten single malts. Normally we taste between 6-8 malts for the evening, but life is short, so if you have it … drink it.  Also thanks to the committee and all who helped set up & tear down.

Gan bei! — Mandarin for ……… Bottoms up!


Your Humble Drudge,



– Words:  Maltmonster 

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:44 am
Jan 162014

Isle Of Jura 30 y.o. Camas An Staca006

44% abv

Score:  89/100


Old Juras are getting a little more plentiful on the ground as of late, and I’m more than happy for it.  The recent 1977 was really good.  The 1976 was great.  And this 30 year old Camas An Staca, while not quite in the same league as those two, is certainly a welcome addition to the range.

Don’t expect a vast shearing away from the sort of ‘typical’ Jura profile (i.e. kinda vinous and heavy), but rather expect to see that character softened by time, much like the bourbon-soaked voice of a lounge-y crooner after warming up on a few late night bar tunes (“The Piano Has Been Drinking”, anyone?).  What it boils down to is that this whisky is still completely recognizable as a Jura even at 15 or 20 years further on than most folks are used to seeing it.

But that doesn’t really speak to whether or not there’s quality here, does it?  Rest easy.  This is good whisky.

Generally in reviewing and scoring, we try to remove as much of the subjectivity as we can, while still conceding a little bit of wiggle room for the more intangible aspects of the whisky.  This usually gets buried in the ‘balance’ piece of most reviewers’ scores.  These intangibles will generally be where a reviewer will add or subtract a point (or more) based on things like how this particular malt fares against previous batches; whether or not it lives up to, or exceeds, the distillery’s usual potential; or any other bit of ‘wow’ that shows a little bit of a variance from the distillery’s norm.  In this case we’ll use that little bit of flexibility to simply ratchet it up an extra point or so in recognition of a distillery staying very true to itself while still rewarding the faithful (cause who else but a dedicated Jura enthusiast is dropping this kinda coin?) with something a little beyond what we’ve come to expect from their range (Superstition, Prophecy, Elixir, and other young’uns).  Very nice, Jura…very nice.

‘Camas An Staca’ means ‘standing stone’ in Gaelic.  This whisky was so named for the biggest of eight standing stones on the Isle of Jura.  These stones were laid out in a ceremonial stone circle more than three millennia ago by the island’s early inhabitants in supplication of the spirits.  Or so they say.

Nose:  Leather and deep worn furniture polish.  Spices and lots of ’em (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and the lot).  Almond paste on strong dark fruitcake.  Dates, prunes and raisins (oh my!).  Figgy too.  Lemon notes with moist tobacco.  A mixed bag of dried fruits meets a dusty sort of nuttiness.  Coffee.  A hefty sherry influence here, which in Jura often seems kinda ‘wine-y’.

Palate:  Surprisingly…and pleasantly…sour.  Again with the dark fruitcake notes.  The wine-y / sherry note leads the charge though.  Very lush at first, but dries up like the Sahara sucking back a rain-tini.  Some interesting (albeit almost unidentifiable) fruit notes.

Thoughts:  Good whisky.  Not as great as some from the ’70s, but lovely nonetheless.  Should note…the nose is better than palate throughout though.

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:07 pm
Jan 122014


A nifty, but now sadly obsolete, run of Macallan that came out some time around the turn of the millenium, I think.  The Travel Series was launched as an attempt to replicate the style of vintage Macallan from several decades in the first half of the twentieth century.

The whisky is a novelty, to be sure, but it’s also a neat little insight into the blender’s art.  Man…what skill to be able to recreate these whiskies from age old samples, right?  Ahhhh…but there’s the rub.  Are they accurate recreations?  Well…not having access to those glorious old Macallans from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s or ’50s, who am I to say whether or not this is a true representation of the style?

At the end of the day though, it doesn’t really matter, because suspension of disbelief is made easier by the fact that these releases retailed for less than $35 a bottle locally.  For that sort of financial investment the free range of imagination will be all I use in the sating of curiosity.  And I’ll consider that well and truly paid for at less than $150 all in for the full suite of releases.  In short…just have fun with it.

While equally lauded (Michael Jackson) and lambasted (Serge Valentin), I’ll happily take the middle road when it comes to throwing marks against these malts.  These are good whiskies.  No, they’re not great by any means, but they are unique…they are well-made…and they are fun as hell.  Think of it like a trip down memory lane…one which you’ve never traveled before.  These malts really do set the imagination to run.  I Love ’em for that if nothing more.

A good mate of mine, J Wheelock, introduced me to these Macallans a few years back when he worked for the brand (Edrington, that is).  For that…and for much, much more…this dram’s for you, J.  Slainte!


Macallan Travel Series – ‘Twenties’

40% abv     500 ml bottle

Score:  86.5/100

Nose:  Somewhat fruitier than expected.  A little bit of apple and peach.  Shortbread.  Tobacco.  Peach is a theme throughout.  Reminds a little of a ’77 Glenisla I’ve tried.  Cherry syrup.  Cadbury milk chocolate.  Nice depth of spice.  Some tart red berry now.  A touch of maple.

Palate:  Immediate disappointment at the thinness of mouthfeel.  Fruity and sweet at first, but dries rather quickly.  Some crabapple.  Slightly weedy floral notes.  Spiced dough.  A bit of very mild peat and smoke at about the three quarter point.

Thoughts:  Good noser.  Not so pleasing on the palate unfortunately.  The flavours are ok, but it’s a featherweight.  Especially as I believe the old style malts to have a bit more heft than this.


Macallan Travel Series – ‘Thirties’

40% abv     500 ml bottle

Score:  86/100

Nose:  Still fruity, much like the ‘Twenties’, but a bit more dry spice now.  A hint of Old Dutch Barbecue Potato Chips (crisps, if you’re UK-centric).  More peat arriving now by this decade.  Spicy figgy notes.  Tobacco, leather and oil.

Palate:  Tobacco.  Chocolate with a dollop of caramel.  Coffee.  Dried fruits.  Chocolate fudge now.  Quite spicy.  Threads of deep dark fruits courtesy of the sherry influence.  Smoked apple skins.  Now a little oakiness.

Thoughts:  Again…better nose than palate.  Sadly, as thin as the average head of hair in a nursing home.


Macallan Travel Series – ‘Forties’

40% abv     500 ml bottle

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Peppery peat.  A bit more earthy and smoky now that we’ve hit the ‘Forties’.  Cookie dough.  Quite dry, and almost ashy.  Mincemeat and tobacco.  Slightly barn-ish (maybe horse blanket).  Maybe…maybe…smoked meat of some sort.  Toffee or caramel fudge.  Now there’s more smoke building.

Palate:  Very nice.  Better palate than the first couple, but still anemic.  Like caramel apples for adults.  Slightly peppery and bearing more woody notes now.  A touch of peat and smoke.  Ok…more than a touch.  Kinda tarry.  Arrives with fruits but turns to black coal smoke.

Thoughts:  Not necessarily the most balanced of the quartet, but maybe the most fun.  Some really neat nuances here.  Much more ‘old school’ in character.


Macallan Travel Series – ‘Fifties’

40% abv     500 ml bottle

Score:  88/100

Nose:  A touch of peat and moist tobacco.  Cinnamon, cocoa and vanilla.  A touch of floral notes.  Chewy sweet sherry notes.  A little bit of dust and dunnage warehouse.  Smoked hay.  Yep…still some peat here.  Creamier, fruitier, more depth and more developed than the others.

Palate:  Nice bold delivery.  Feels thicker and more substantial than the others.  A more traditionally gooey sherried Macallan with a heft of very dry cinnamon and clove.  Good long finish with all the right notes lingering.

Thoughts:  Neck and neck with the ‘Forties’ as best of the bunch.  More palatable for the masses too, I’d argue, and closer to the Macallan most folk would now know.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt


 Posted by at 9:40 pm
Jan 032014

Kilchoman Machir Bay (2012)001

46% abv

Score:  86/100


Watching this distillery find itself is a cool experience, and one I hope all lovers of Islay malts are taking to heart.  This is literally us watching whisky history unfolding.  Much as I lord back over details of long gone distilleries, or the stories of the early days of existing ones, future generations will one day contemplate the wee might of Kilchoman.  Think about it…this was the first new distillery on Islay in 124 years.  Obviously that tells you there’s something special here.  Moments like this don’t come ’round often.  Next year will be Kilchoman’s 10th birthday already.  Cool stuff.

I think, throughout all of the previous Kilchoman reviews and features here on the site, we’ve shared enough about the distillery’s wonderful beginnings, so let’s move on to more topical subject matter:  the distillery’s relatively new flagship single malt, Machir Bay.  This whisky was so named for a beautiful stretch of beach along the western shore of Islay, not far from the distillery itself.  It is a young whisky, heavily peated, and already recognizable for its own style.  As we’ve discussed before, peat monsters often work best when served up in their early years, before the big clouds of smoke and heavy peat have had a chance to fade away, and this is certainly a malt that exemplifies that approach.  It’s built on a bedrock of malted barley that has been peated to the same specs as the mighty Ardbeg.  You can expect a big dram from in Machir Bay.

Kilchoman has something to be proud of with this expression.  Indeed, one drunken night outside of Duffies whisky bar on Islay, not long after a group of us lads had toured the distillery, we ran into one of the young men whom we’d seen earlier that day working at Kilchoman.  He remarked (in a thick slurring Ileach accent) that if we came back to see him again at the distillery before we left he’d be sure to it that we got some more Machir Bay.  Arms around our necks, he reiterated his generous offer about 13 more times before we moved on.  Love it.  That’s the sign of Islay pride.  And well-earned, at that.

Oh, yeah…and one more thing, please:  It’s pronounced ‘kil-homan’.  The ‘c’ is silent.

Nose:  Ashy.  Very ashy.  Smoky, yes, but quite surprisingly creamy at the same time.  Very rich in oceanic notes, or shoreline or Maritime…whatever seaside descriptor you like (brine, wet rock, salt water, drying seaweed, fishy breezes, etc).  Quite citrus-heavy.  Salt and pepper.  Vanilla.  Did I mention dry ash?  A touch of smoked ham.  Simple and bold.  Succeeds in spite of (or more likely, because of) it’s relative youth.

Palate:  Ash again.  Salt licorice.  Smoke.  Earthy peat.  Lemon drop candies.  Vanilla.  Wet rock.  Big and peppery.  Granny smith apples throughout denouement.  Tasty and long lasting.

Thoughts:  Islay at it’s youthful best.  A great addition to the Kilchoman range that should only get better as it gets older.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:42 pm
Jan 032014

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2007007

46% abv

Score:  93/100


One of my best mates is Irish.  He’s fiercely proud of that fact too.  So much so that we have to constantly remind him that it is the Scots that produce 95% of the glorious drams he likes to hoard and sip.  That helps to momentarily take him down a peg or two, but never seems to be enough to wipe the filthy Irish prejudices out of his mouth. 

But every now and again, just to show a little love and solidarity, we have to throw a bit of appreciation at the fine folk from the Emerald Isle.  Without them we’d not have one of the world’s greatest accents, Guinness, Flogging Molly, St. Paddy’s Day parties, Oscar Wilde, Shane MacGowan, James Joyce, Bushmills, Conan O’Brien, Gary Oldman, Dropkick Murphys and so much more.  They also say the Irish invented whisky, which makes ’em gold in my books, so it must just be the present company I keep that seems like rabble.  Such is the nature of searching out your drinking buddies from the likes of Northern Alberta.

Among the greatest gifts the Irish have given the greater whisky world sits one absolutely sparkling gem of almost untouched clarity and brilliance.  That gem is Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2007 edition.  The first time I tasted this whisky was literally one of those ‘knock the wind out of you’ surprises.  I simply had no idea Irish whisky could be this beautiful.  It was the aforementioned Irish gent himself who opened that bottle to generously share with a group of eager folk at an early (and now defunct)  incarnation of our local whisky club.  It was a magical moment, wherein a room full of people were simultaneously bowled over.  It’s become one of those touchstone moments in my whisky learnin’.

I want to state something clearly here:  This is a blended whisky.  That’s important.  All blenders rigorously engaged in their craft should stop for a moment and be made aware that something like this exists out there.  If a blended whisky this sublime (Irish, or otherwise) can be created through the blender’s alchemy once, it can certainly be done again.  Maltmonster used these words in a previous write-up:  “Blended whiskey with older grain (23-24 years old) and malted and unmalted barley matured in bourbon and port casks.”   Whatever the mashbill…this is simply great stuff.  Almost untouchable.

Nose:  Pineapple.  Grapefruit.  Mango.  Maybe some peach.  Man…this is fruit on parade.  Deeply rich in tropical notes.  Even deeper than I remember.  But they’re quite well integrated into the whole.  Deep inhalations are VERY rewarding.  Some citrus.  White chocolate.  Yogurt-covered Fun Fruits (anyone remember those things?).  A touch of sweet sugar cookies.  Cinnamon.  Some great spicy bourbon notes.

Palate:  Those same tart and tangy tropical fruit notes.  Like an ‘adults only’ version of Five Alive.  Orange rind.  Lots of spice and a bit of chocolate.  There’s also an oaky note at play. 

Thoughts:  Utterly fantastic.  Far and away the greatest Irish whiskey I have ever tasted.

*(The author would like to state for the record that he loves the Irish and that no Irish or Edmontonians were hurt in the making if this review.  Excepting perhaps the feelings of O’Maltmonster.)


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:57 pm
Jan 022014

Isle Of Jura Elixir001

46% abv

Score:  86/100


Just a hop, skip and a leap from the entry level malt in Jura’s core range.  This is Elixir, Jura’s take on a fairly standard twelve year old single malt.  Interesting, really, as most distilleries will release either a ten year old or a twelve year old, but not both.  Jura bucks the trend here with the Elixir falling neatly in step behind the entry level ten year old ‘Origin’.

From what all kindsa interesting folk are saying online (and as per the packaging itself), the name ‘Elixir’ is an homage to the ‘mystical, life-giving properties’ associated with the water springs on this tiny little Hebridean island, with some even suggesting that the water therein is responsible for the islanders’ longevity.  In a feat of death defiance only paralled in the opening pages of the Old Testament, there was apparently even a Diurach who lived long enough to have spun the sun ’round 180 times.  Again from the whisky’s packaging: ‘An ancient gravestone not far from the distillery lies as testament to this tale’.

So, it would seem Jura 1) had a nifty little marketing angle to play with the magical water bit and 2) they wanted to beef up the range with what was apparently meant to be a fruity and spicy addition.  Either way, motivations aside, this is a pretty decent young dram.  And any time you can tag a cool story onto it…I’m all over it.

Elixir is built on a bedrock of bourbon and sherry casks, which makes sense when you taste it.  The malt aligns perfectly with the spices usually plumbed from a bourbon barrel and the fruitier notes leeched from sherry butts.  A ‘best of both worlds’ scenario really.  It’s also a decent dram at a fair price point.

Nose:  Butterscotch.  Werther’s Originals.  Cadbury Fruit & Nut.  Suisse Mocha coffee mix (remember those rectangular tins?).  A hint of sulphur, but not offputting.  Spicy.  Black currants and Brazil nuts.  Heavy and brooding malt, but quite sweet as well.  Much more so than expected.

Palate:  Very sweet arrival.  Chocolate covered ju-jubes…chocolate covered dried fruits.  Wine notes.  Very juicy.  Maybe a touch of smoke.  Still a whiff of brimstone.  Coffee again.  F*cking odd, but delightfully charming.  I should note…follows delightfully well after a piece of 85% cacao dark chocolate.

Thoughts:   Think I’d have prefered a touch less sherry influence, but hey…I’m still happy.  Good whisky overall.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:59 pm
Jan 022014

Port Charlotte 10211

46% abv

Score:  88/100


As with all of the whiskies in Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte range, this is a single malt that boasts a warm welcome familiarity and, quite simply, a wonderfully unique profile.

Uniqueness in whisky is rather scarce, so it’s no small thing to be recognized as standing out from the pack and having an instantly recognizable niche.  Do I inflate Port Charlotte scores because of this?  Possibly, but I don’t really think so.  Unequivocally I stand behind the inherent quality of the malt.  It’s an old school peat-and-smoke-heavy whisky of charm and character.  The Bruichladdich spirit simply works very well with high test peat, as proven by both the Octomore range and the Port Charlottes, so it’s rather easy to get behind it.

This release is Port Charlotte come of age.  We’ve watched the whisky mature gracefully through some exceptional annual cask strength releases named in simple fashion for the initials of the distillate and the age of the whisky (i.e. PC5, PC6, PC7, etc).  This was a release pattern much in line with Ardbeg’s ‘Path To Peaty Maturity’ series from several years back.  When Ardbeg finally reached 10 years, they celebrated with a final ‘Path’ expression called ‘Renaissance’, then strolled confidently onwards with a core range ten year old, aptly titled ‘Ten’, at 46% abv.  Bruichladdich has followed that model to a ‘T’.  On the heels of last year’s PC10, we were rewarded with ‘Port Charlotte 10’, an addition to the core ‘Laddie range and offered up at a respectable 46% abv.  And not chill-filtered.  And free of added coloring.  Brilliant. 

Even better though, is that Bruichladdich has managed to retain the integrity of the whisky even after bringing it down to a more manageable bottling strength.  We’ve seen many times before where the true ‘oomph’ of a dram is lost when the whisky is brought down from a flavour-rich cask strength to a market savvy 40% (give or take).  In the case of the PC series, those initial bottling strengths were massive, hovering in and around 60% abv.  That’s a far cry from this 46%, so to see the whisky retain all of its hallmark beauty is something to be extremely grateful for.  Well done, Team ‘Laddie. 

As of now, January 2014, Port Charlotte is still being produced at the Bruichladdich distillery.  Perhaps this will finally be the year where we really see new owners, Remy Cointreau’s, financial backing at play in helping to get the long-proposed Port Charlotte distillery up and running.  Fingers crossed.

Nose:  Buttery, farmy and peaty in that sort of way with which we’re now quite familiar in Port Charlotte releases.  Some smoke and rubber.  Creamy natural caramels…thick and awesomely gooey.  Salty.  Notes of Werther’s Originals.  Asphalt.  Maybe a distant touch of anise.  Great nose for sitting on a cool, cloudy beach and watching the ocean roll in.  Ideally…beside the pier in Port Charlotte itself.

Palate:  Sweet smoky rubber.  Elastic band and bandaid.  Peaty, earthy and iodine-rich.  A little sharp.  Moving into Longrow territory.  Very nice.

Thoughts:  Port Charlotte coming of age is a beautiful thing to watch.  Enjoying the hell out of this whisky’s growth and development.  A neutered Port Charlotte, to be sure, (we prefer the cask strength PC series), but still a great dram bearing all the nuances of the style.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:45 pm
Jan 022014

Miyagikyo 15 y.o.204

45% abv

Score:  90.5/100


A few nights back, sitting ’round sharing drams with a bunch of mates, when lo and behold, the tallest and scrawniest of the lot (a fellow we lovingly refer to as the ‘Ginger Buddha’) pops the cork on this l’il gem.  He’d been down to see our mate, Andrew Ferguson, at Kensington Wine Market and been gently nudged in the direction of this malt from the Miyagikyo distillery (under the Nikka brand).  I’m not certain if he did the whole try-before-you-buy thing, or simply picked it up on faith, but either way, those of us in attendance were all amply rewarded for braving the snow that evening.

Lately, more and more, I’ve felt the pull towards the far climes of Asian whiskies.  Amrut, Kavalan, Karuizawa, Yamazaki…the exotic allure is well nigh irresistable.  These malts aren’t simply recreations of that glorious Scottish distillate we all love, but more like a beautiful and resonant variation on a theme.  Atop all of the inherently great characteristics of single malt whisky, levy a heap of exotic spices and off-the-beaten-path fruit notes and you’ll be coming somewhat close to what many of these Asian whiskies generally offer.

This 15 year old Miyagikyo is no different.  It followed hard on the heels of a rather unpleasant blended whisky that night, so it was relatively easy for this one to sparkle in comparison, but subsequent tastings have held up just as well.   Truly a wonderful surprise here from the North of Japan.  I look forward to trying more aged variants as soon as opportunity presents.

Apparently Miyagikyo produces whisky primarily for Nikka’s range of blends, with only a small fraction of their 2 million litre capacity being siphoned off as single malt.  The distillery, near Sendai, was initially founded with a thought to taking pressure off Nikka’s other distillery, Yoichi.  This allows Yoichi to concentrate on single malts, while Miyagikyo pumps out (mostly) blend fodder.  If this malt is any indication of what flows from the stills at Sendai, then Nikka can count itself lucky to have two aces in its hand. 

Nose:  Initial off-the-cork nose…wow!  Just wow.  A lot of great fruit.  Mango…and a few other tropicals.  Maybe a bit of raisin bringing some dark depth.  A touch of smoke swirling with the spices.  Rich, rich sherry notes.  Creamy chocolate and almond.  Paint notes hinting at some age (older casks herein, or just the result of a more temperate clime for accelerated maturation?)  Great, GREAT nose.

Palate:  Dried tropical fruits.  Pineapple and mango.  Dark cherry and wet wood.  Some apple…maybe even over ripe apple.  A touch of smoke again.  Juicy sherry leads to a little bit of a tannic side.

Thoughts:  The palate is a slight disappointment compared to the beauty of the nose.  That 90.5 could maybe be a touch more…maybe a touch less.  Probably more.  After several glasses of this, I’d still like to revisit.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:09 pm